LAS VEGAS — On the New York Liberty flight to Las Vegas for the first leg of the WNBA Finals, coach Sandy Brondello first used the more than five-hour trip to watch film. She took out her laptop and continued her preparations. Then, at some point, his computer crashed. “And the outlets wouldn’t work,” Brondello said. “So I’m like, it tells me to turn it off and go to sleep.”
Brondello could rest comfortably. The only people around her were members of the organization. Players, like a 6-foot-5 center Stephanie Dolson, were spread out in their own row. Others, like the wing Betnijah Laneywere seated in first class seats.
There was no bad place to find, because the Freedom were traveling West in a plane chartered by the WNBA. They had flown charters several times during the season, including to Las Vegas for the Commissioners Cup in mid-August. But it was the finale and that made their lunchtime trip to Las Vegas much easier than it otherwise would have been. ‘It really makes a difference,’ says veteran goalkeeper Courtney Vandersloot said.
Heading into the 2023 season, the WNBA expanded its charter policy allowing private flights for all of its playoff games. However, because of the way the playoff games were played out, the first time the Liberty took advantage of the service was last week when they traveled to Las Vegas. The experience further reinforced the importance of charter flights to players, if they were more readily available, and highlighted how players want to see them become a norm in the future. ‘It’s just good for everyone’s body,’ Liberty star Breanna Stewart said.
There are health benefits. Ace reserve guard Kierstan Bell notes that they provide an opportunity for “rest and recovery.” Terri Jackson, executive director of the WNBPA, said in an interview in August: “When your body is part of your performance, then it’s all part of the calculation. »
The privacy benefits are also a bonus. Vegas onward A’ja Wilson said she doesn’t like walking around airports because of the crowds the Aces sometimes attract. “We should not find ourselves in such a difficult situation,” she said. “And I shouldn’t find myself in a situation where I don’t know who I’m sitting next to.” Charter flights, she said, allow her “to have the peace of mind that we can get from one destination to another.”
Over the summer, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert discussed the topic of charter travel with Athleticism. She highlighted changes the league made to its travel policy this season — it also allowed charter flights for some regular-season trips, such as for back-to-back games. She also highlighted the importance of the league’s upcoming media rights deal as a financial means to improve travel amenities in future seasons.
“It’s impossible for a men’s sport to travel on charter without a huge media rights deal,” she said. Later adding: “You are not going to jeopardize the financial stability of this league, I tell you. If the players got what they wanted now – look, I want it for them too – but they won’t have a job in three to five years if we do it today.
The WNBA’s travel woes persist. Beyond charters, what are the answers?
Jackson, however, points out that the Players Association is simply asking that “the ban on charters be eliminated,” thereby giving teams the freedom to travel as they see fit. Aces owner Mark Davis, for example, has shown his desire to improve his team’s travel conditions. Earlier this year, for example, the Aces briefly flew their players on pop-up routes available in limited numbers with JSX, a league-approved public charter operator. Liberty owners Joe Tsai and Clara Wu Tsai also invested in the team’s travel, including when the team used charter flights during the second half of the WNBA season. (They paid a price: $500,000 – a record fine for violating the collective agreement.)
Even though Las Vegas barely benefits from the service, due to its postseason success, the league offering charter flights for the entire postseason for the first time has been a welcome change. “I’m happy we’re moving in this direction,” Wilson said.
Las Vegas made its first charter flight of the playoffs to Dallas, before playing the Wings during the third match of the semi-finals. Chelsea Gray DJ, playing Jay-Z songs and R&B. Teammates played games like Bananagrams, Pirates, and Phase 10. Reserve Guard Sydney Colson, unsurprisingly to those on the Aces roster, was enthusiastic throughout. “Really, we just listened to Syd be annoying,” Bell said.
Colson said charter flights also help build team bonding — another key to the Aces’ success. “Charter flights make a big difference,” she said. “And you see you get a better product on the field. This leads to a lot of things, like better viewership because people can see you at your best.
This also helps players who are parents. Las Vegas Reserve Center Cayla Georges takes her one-year-old daughter, Pearl, with her on the road.
The Liberty’s flight to Las Vegas for the finale had a very different energy than its opponent’s first charter flight in the playoffs. “It’s dark. It’s quiet and everyone’s asleep,” Vandersloot said. “Which I like to be quite honest.” Stewart noticed several of her teammates were napping, but she spent much of the trip watching the show “Suits.” She was in the middle of season 6. “I’m just breaking it up while I’m away from (my wife) Marta because she doesn’t watch not,” Stewart said.
The convenience of the travel option was evident again as the Liberty departed Sin City. They ran away quickly after their 104-76 loss. From the arena, they boarded team buses, headed to the airport and boarded their red-eye charter back to New York.
“I just wish we could do more,” Dolson said.
(Photo of Kiah Stokes: Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images)